Bill Would Open Up State Parks to Private Businesses

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives rejected a bill that could have paved the way for private water slides, golf courses and even amusement parks within state parks.

The bill would have created a system for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to enter into partnerships with private entities to develop more recreational facilities in the parks. Representative Brian Ellis, a Republican from Butler County who sponsored the bill, said in an April memo that Pennsylvania’s lagging behind states like Ohio and West Virginia, which offer conference centers and updated lodging in their state parks.

Environmental groups, including the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), opposed the bill. Davitt Woodwell, PEC’s president and CEO, says the group worried the proposal didn’t take into consideration the needs of the parks’ millions of visitors.

“Right now, you’ve got bike trails, paddling opportunities, fishing, swimming—opportunities a lot of Pennsylvanians don’t necessarily have access to elsewhere. And it’s all free,” Woodwell says.

He says the respite people get in state parks is priceless, and there are plenty of other places in the state—even adjacent to the parks—that are more appropriate spaces for private development. But he says reevaluating the possible uses of the state’s 121 parks isn’t a bad idea.

“It’s not that we’re saying, ‘Hands off—don’t do anything.’” He also added that the public should be involved in discussions about the evolution of state parks.

Governor Wolf’s spokesperson Jeff Sheridan said in an email that “the administration is committed to ensuring that any new development in the state parks is in keeping with DCNR’s mission and planning for the park system.”

Representative Ellis has asked the House to reconsider the bill.

Reporting by Kara Holsopple

 

Officials, Scientists Await Summer Algae Blooms on Lake Erie

For the last several summers, many parts of Lake Erie have been transformed into a green, goopy mess. The reason: toxic algae blooms. In fact, in 2014, they were so bad that the city of Toledo had to shutdown its municipal water supply.

Scientists and state officials have been trying to get on top of the problem ever since. Last week, Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency rolled out its plan to reduce runoff of phosphorus—the nutrient that’s largely fueling the bloom in the lake. But Karl Gebhardt, deputy director for water resources at the Ohio EPA, says reducing phosphorus by the agency’s goal of 40 percent won’t happen overnight.

Gebhardt says the key to measuring success will be intensive monitoring. The agency’s new plan will involve long-term tracking of water quality in watersheds where phosphorus is being released to see whether changes in agricultural practices, wastewater treatment and septic systems are having an impact.

“The first 12 months is really going to be making sure we have good data in those sub-watersheds; and that where we have monitoring, we need it—and where we need monitoring, we have it,” he says.

That will mean adding at least a dozen new water quality monitoring sites. And Ohio EPA chief Craig Butler says the state will be looking for ways to fund water quality monitoring over the long term.

“We’re just starting,” Butler says. “We cannot let our guard down—nor let anybody else tell us that the issue is gone, that it’s over, that we’re done.”

In addition to Ohio’s plan to keep tabs on the success of its phosphorus reduction plan, the Great Lakes Commission has launched a new website to oversee the process.

Reporting by Karen Schaefer